7 Most Common Health Concerns for Seniors

seniors in bed

People are living longer. Modern medicine has pushed the average lifespan up to 71 worldwide, with females living longer than males. Thirty-two countries have an average lifespan of 80 years or longer, with Hong Kong’s overall life expectancy at 84.7 years.

As seniors continue to live longer, they experience chronic conditions and common health concerns that can often be managed.

The most common health concerns for seniors are:

1. Arthritis

The CDC estimates that nearly 50% of seniors suffer from arthritis. The condition causes joint inflammation and also impacts the tissue surrounding the joint. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.

There are over 200 conditions that fall under this condition, and rheumatoid arthritis is the most persistent form.

Treatment for arthritis may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Medication

2. Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States. There are nearly a half-a-million deaths per year caused by heart disease in the US, and this figure is significantly higher worldwide. Obesity contributes to heart disease, but lack of exercise and poor eating habits are also tied to the condition.

Chronic heart disease impacts 37% of men and 26% of women.

Diet and lifestyle choices are the main contributors to heart disease. A poor diet or smoking are the most common causes of heart disease.

Depending on the underlying factor, doctors may recommend a person with heart disease:

  • Exercise more often
  • Diet to lose weight
  • Change bad eating habits
  • Sleep more

Medications may be prescribed depending on the symptoms associated with a person’s heart disease.

3. Cancer

The second leading cause of death worldwide for people over the age 65 is cancer. Nearly one-third of the people diagnosed with cancer in 2018 will die from the disease. Advancements are helping many seniors live longer with the disease, but the type of cancer will determine the person’s mortality rate.

The key to treating cancer is to detect it early on.

Skin checks, colonoscopies and mammograms are recommended as a person ages. Treatment for cancer may include chemotherapy, medication or surgery. The key to living with cancer is to work with medical professionals that can help a senior manage their cancer.

Treatment options will depend on the type of cancer and the overall health of the senior.

A senior who is already in poor health may not be the prime candidate to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

4. Respiratory and Lung Disease

Respiratory diseases may not be as prevalent as arthritis or heart disease, but they are still some of the top diseases in terms of senior death. Around 10% of men and 13% of women will have some form of asthma by the time they’re 65.

Serious conditions, such as emphysema, impact roughly 10% of the population, but the main cause of the disease is smoking. Second-hand smoke can also lead to lung or respiratory disease.

The good news is that lung disease can be managed.

A doctor will be able to conduct lung function tests and prescribe medication that will allow most seniors to manage and live with their lung disease.

Serious issues with respiratory disease often occur when a person has pneumonia or other serious infection. If not treated quickly, these two conditions along with lung disease, can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Common respiratory conditions include:

  • COPD
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease
  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis

5. Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease can cause death, but the main concern is loss of mental capacity. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that 11% of people over the age of 65 will have some form of the disease.

Diagnosis is difficult, and there’s a chance that the percentage of seniors suffering from this condition is higher than forecasted.

Cognitive impairment is the main symptom.

Seniors that suffer from Alzheimer’s will slowly start to lose their:

  • Memory
  • Cognitive abilities

The disease will progressively worsen until the point where the individual can no longer carry out basic tasks. Symptoms often appear when a person is in their mid-60s, and the condition accounts for 60% to 80% of all dementia cases.

Treatment may be able to slow the progression of the disease, but the condition cannot currently be cured.

6. Osteoporosis

Low bone mass occurs in people as young as age 50. When a person ages, bone mass starts to deteriorate and can leave a person disabled, at higher risk of bone breaks or fractures, and can result in a person being less mobile.

Falls become far more serious when a person has osteoporosis.

The condition is common and can last for years, or be lifelong. Seniors often doesn’t realize that they have the condition until they have a fracture or break. When a person has osteoporosis, the bones become weaker and brittle.

Medication can help treat the condition. Weight-bearing exercises will also help you enhance your bone health.

7. Diabetes

Diabetes impacts about 25% of seniors over the age of 65. The condition can be managed with medication and proper diet change, but diabetes still remains a significant risk to seniors. Blood tests and blood sugar level tests can diagnose diabetes.

Treatment and improving your condition means acting swiftly.

Diabetes will require diet changes, and a person can help minimize and even eliminate diabetes with weight loss and a strict diet.

You’re at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Live a sedentary lifestyle
  • Are obese or overweight
  • Consume high levels of alcohol
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Maintain a high carb and high fat diet

Diet and weight loss may be able to help a person with type 2 diabetes lower their blood sugar levels to a point where they no longer need medication. Doctors claim that while there is no cure for the disease, you may be able to live a life without medication if you make these two key changes.

Seniors will have to be more cautious of pneumonia and influenza as they age. Since the immune system may not be as strong as it once was, a senior can become violently ill or even die due to these conditions.

Falls are another major health risk. A slip and fall can lead to:

  • Broken bones
  • Fractures
  • Loss of mobility
  • Head injury
  • Death

Falls become more serious as a person ages. If a hip or leg is broken, the risk of death is also much higher within the first year of the accident.

Staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to living a healthy life into your senior years. Abstaining from alcohol and substance abuse can also help.

Exercise and a healthy diet are recommended to keep muscle strength, bone density and help a senior maintain a healthy weight.

Hearing Loss and Seniors: Causes and Treatment Options

cat listening

As we age, our bodies go through several changes. Hearing loss is one of those changes. In fact, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions that affect seniors. About one in three older Americans between 65 and 74 has hearing loss. Nearly half of those over the age of 75 have trouble hearing.

Hearing loss can range from mild to severe, depending on the age and cause. Causes and treatments also vary. Hearing loss can be hereditary, or it can be the result of trauma, disease, medication or long-term exposure to loud sounds.

Understanding Age-Related Hearing Loss

Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis, and it’s extremely common in older adults. While common, presbycusis can have a significant impact on a person’s life. It can make it more difficult to understand a doctor’s advice, hear phones or doorbells, respond to warnings or hear smoke alarms.

On a more basic level, hearing loss can make it more difficult to enjoy conversations with friends and family, which can lead to feelings of isolation.

Typically, presbycusis affects both ears equally. The onset is gradual, so seniors often don’t realize that they’ve lost some of their ability to hear.

When hearing loss is age-related, symptoms usually start with an inability to hear high-pitched sounds, usually the voices of children or females. Some seniors have difficulty hearing background noises, or are unable to hear others speak clearly.

Age-related hearing may also cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Trouble hearing when in noisy environments
  • Certain sounds seeming too loud
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble differentiating between “s” and “th” sounds
  • Difficulty understanding telephone conversations

Seniors with hearing loss may ask people to repeat themselves, or they may have to turn up the volume on the radio or television louder than normal.

It’s important for seniors to talk to their doctors if they experience any of these symptoms, especially if they come on suddenly. These symptoms could be signs of underlying medical conditions.

Causes of Hearing Loss in Seniors

Age-related hearing loss can be caused by many things, but in most cases, it comes from changes in the inner ear. Some seniors may also develop hearing loss due to changes in the middle ear, or because of complex changes that occur along the nerve pathways between the ear and brain.

Depending on the situation, certain medications and medical conditions can result in hearing loss.

It’s difficult to distinguish between age-related hearing loss and hearing loss caused by other things, such as noise exposure.

Long-term exposure to sounds that are too loud or noise that lasts a long period of time can damage the sensory hair cells in your ear. These hair cells are what allow you to hear. Once they’re damaged, they do not grow back and diminish your ability to hear.

How You Hear

In order to truly understand the causes of hearing loss, you need to understand how you hear.

The ear has three major areas: outer, middle and inner.

  • Sound waves move through the outer ear, and they cause vibrations in the eardrum.
  • The eardrum, along with the three small bones of the middle ear, amplify these vibrations as they move through to the inner ear.
  • From here, the vibrations pass through fluid in the cochlea, which is a small, snail-like structure in the inner ear.

The cochlea has thousands of tiny hairs that are attached to it. These hairs translate sound vibrations into electrical signals, which are transmitted to the brain. The brain then translates these signals into what we perceive as sound.

Causes and Risk Factors of Hearing Loss

We’ve already discussed some common causes of hearing loss in older adults. But now that you have a better understanding of how you hear, you can better understand some other causes of hearing loss. These include:

  • Inner ear damage: One of the most common causes of hearing loss in seniors and those who are exposed to loud noise. Inner ear damage occurs when nerve cells or hairs in the cochlea are damaged. When this occurs, electrical signals aren’t transmitted properly or efficiently. It can be difficult to hear conversations when there’s background noise, or high-pitched tones may sound muffled.
  • Ear infection, tumors or abnormal bone growth: When these affect the outer or middle ear, hearing loss can occur.
  • Earwax build-up: When ears are not properly cleaned, earwax can build up in the ear canal, which prevents the conduction of sound waves. Removing the earwax should restore hearing.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum can be caused by sudden pressure changes, loud blasts of noise, infection, or poking the eardrum with an object.

Hearing loss can also be caused by:

  • Poor circulation
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking

There are many factors that can lead to inner ear damage, including:

  • Aging: Degeneration of the inner ear over time.
  • Occupational or loud noises: Jobs where loud noise is a regular part of the working environment, such as construction, farming, factory work. Long-term exposure to loud noise can damage the inner ear.
  • Heredity: Genetics can make certain people more susceptible to inner ear damage from aging or sound.
  • Medications: Certain drugs can damage the inner ear, such as some chemotherapy drugs, sildenafil (Viagra) and some antibiotics. Very high doses of aspirin can cause temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears.
  • Illness: Some illnesses or diseases can cause hearing loss, including those that result in high fever, such as meningitis. These illnesses can damage the cochlea.

Treatments for Hearing Loss

There are many different treatment options for hearing loss. The right one for you will depend on the severity of your hearing loss.

The most common treatments include:

  • Hearing aids: Electronic instruments that are worn in or behind the ear and amplify sounds. Not all hearing aids are created equal, so you may have to try a few different ones before you find a model that works well for you. Many manufacturers offer free trial periods. Hearing aids are generally not covered by insurance or Medicare, but the diagnostic evaluation for a hearing aid may be covered.
  • Assistive listening devices: These include phone amplifying devices, hearing loop systems, or smartphone apps that are distributed in theaters, places of worship, auditoriums, museums or other venues.
  • Cochlear implants: Small electronic devices that are surgically implanted in the inner ear. They provide a sense of sound to people who are hard-of-hearing or deaf. A cochlear implant may be recommended if your hearing loss is severe.
  • Bone anchored hearing systems: These systems bypass the ear canal and the middle ear. They rely on the body’s natural ability to transfer sound using bone conduction. The device picks up the sound, converts it to vibrations, and transmits those vibrations from your skull bone to your inner ear.

Hearing loss is common in older adults, but that doesn’t mean that you have to suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor about having your hearing tested and exploring your treatment options.

How Sleep Affects Heart Health and Seniors

heart health and sleep

Heart health is an important topic for seniors. About 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year. It’s the leading cause of death among older adults, and the most frequent medical condition affecting them.

When it comes to improving and protecting heart health, the focus is usually on improving diet and exercise while eliminating unhealthy habits. But there’s another important factor that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: sleep.

According to new research published in Experimental Physiology, “habitual short sleep duration” can have a negative impact on heart health.

How Sleep Affects Heart Health in Seniors

The goal of the research published in Experimental Physiology was to determine whether there was a link between “habitual short sleep duration” (sleeping less than seven hours per night) and “specific inflammation and vascular‐related microRNAs.”

MicroRNAs are tiny, non-coding RNA molecules that assist in the regulation of vascular health. These molecules are also an indication of heart health.

The study looked at 24 adults: 12 with short sleep duration and 12 with normal sleep duration. Researchers found that circulating levels of certain microRNAs were much lower in those with short sleep compared to the normal sleep group.

Changes to microRNAs have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and vascular dysfunction.

Seniors and Insomnia

Getting adequate sleep is important to a person’s overall health and well-being, but many seniors struggle to fall or stay asleep. Sleep trouble can make it difficult to reach the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Studies have found that one in four Americans suffer from insomnia each year for a number of reasons. Most individuals eventually return to a normal sleeping pattern within a year, but 20% of individuals will continue to suffer with poor sleeping habits.

In seniors, insomnia is a very common condition, affecting nearly 50% of people aged 60 and older, according to the National Institute of Health.

Causes of Insomnia in Seniors

While insomnia can be a primary condition for some seniors, it’s more often a secondary disorder that stems from another health condition. The most common causes include:

  • Poor sleep habits: Many seniors do not have optimal sleeping environments. Poor behaviors and pre-sleep habits can also make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Anxiety and stress: Everyday life stresses, deaths of loved ones, or other significant life changes can cause anxiety and stress that makes it difficult to sleep.
  • Stimulants: When caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants are consumed too close to bed time, it can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Irregular sleep cycles: Traveling, jet lag or keeping an erratic schedule can disrupt the body’s internal clock.
  • Alcohol consumption: Alcohol can have a sedating effect that promotes sleep initially, but disrupts REM and makes sleep more fragmented.
  • Depression: It’s common for seniors to suffer from depression, and insomnia is a common symptom of depression. SAD is especially common in the winter months.
  • Pain: Chronic pain, such as that caused by osteoporosis or arthritis, can cause physical pain that makes it difficult to sleep.
  • Frequent urination: Waking up several times at night to use the restroom can result in poor sleep quality.
  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep Apnea can have serious consequences to your health. If you suffer from chronic snoring you should consult your physician.

How Seniors can Improve Their Sleep Quality

Improving sleep quality can improve a senior’s overall well-being, but as the new research shows, it can also help improve heart health.

If an underlying medical condition is causing sleep disruption, treating or addressing that underlying cause should be the first step. Seniors can work with their doctors to treat the problem, and hopefully, the insomnia resolves itself.

But seniors can also employ preventative and treatment measures. Proper sleep hygiene is a great place to start. Healthy sleep habits include:

  • Keeping a regular sleep/wake schedule.
  • Engaging in activities that promote relaxation before bed, such as a listening to calming music or taking a warm shower.
  • Optimizing the sleep environment. Ideally, the room should be quiet, dark, safe and comfortable.
  • Exercising early in the day – no later than 4 hours before bed.
  • Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants before bed.
  • Not eating spicy meals or heavy meals before bed.
  • Avoiding activities in bed that may induce anxiety, such as reading, working or watching television.
  • Limiting naps during the day.

Depending on the severity of the insomnia, doctors may recommend sleeping pills. There are also over-the-counter sleep aids, such as those that contain melatonin.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Its Impact on Seniors

seasonal affective disorder and seniors

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, and it’s the winter blues that won’t seem to go way all season long. Seniors are impacted by SAD more than younger individuals, but how common is this disorder and do other people have it, too?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression that sets in with the changing seasons, and it’s most commonly experienced in the fall and winter months. It’s estimated that over 3 million Americans alone are diagnosed with the condition, or roughly 1% of the population. Some estimates put this figure as high as 5% of the adult population.

You may even find that SAD occurs in the spring and summer months, but this is far less common than in the fall or winter.

The American Psychiatric Association claims that this is a form of depression, and it’s easy to identify. People will experience:

According to the Association, the worst symptoms seem to be in January and February in the United States, but this will be different across the world.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel the “winter blues.” The weather is colder, there’s less to do outdoors and it can be difficult for seniors to go outside of the house, depending on weather conditions.

But SAD goes deeper than just dreading the cooler months of the year.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Scientists studying SAD have been able to link the condition to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. The shorter daylight hours and lack of sun causes the body to naturally shift its circadian rhythm and internal clock.

The further people live from the equator, the more they’re impacted by SAD.

What SAD Does to Seniors

Seniors tend to be more prone to SAD, and there are a lot of reasons for this. When a person has SAD, it can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Lack of enjoyment in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Increases in sleeping hours
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of being worthless
  • Attempts or thoughts of suicide

While SAD can impact seniors the most, it’s a condition that first starts to occur in a person’s late teens until their thirties.

People who experience SAD will often gain weight. For a senior, this can lead to being overweight and putting more pressure on the knees, ankles and hips. It’s essential for seniors to manage their weight if they have the hope of remaining active.

Despite a loss of appetite, SAD also leads to increased carbohydrate cravings, which leads to rapid weight gain for many seniors.

Seniors are in a worse situation than many younger sufferers of SAD.

Why?

  • Seniors may not want to leave the house. In many cases, seniors will not be able to leave the house due to weather conditions. When this occurs, it can lead to a person losing mobility, strength and flexibility from being immobile.
  • Fear and anxiety can also start to increase at this time. When a person is afraid to go outside or no longer feels like being social, it can lead to social anxiety or even fear of leaving the house.

Winter weather is also much harder for seniors to be active in because of the risks of slipping and falling. A single slip and fall can lead to broken bones and the loss of mobility. Seniors do not want to risk falling, so they’ll often remain in their homes during the winter, leading to higher depression levels overall.

If a senior has SAD, it’s best to ensure that treatment starts as quickly as possible.

Allowing SAD to progress can lead to severe bouts of depression, and it can lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide in the worst-case scenario. Doctors will be able to diagnose the condition, and it’s important to start treatment immediately for the condition.

It’s not uncommon for SAD to last for up to 40% of the year, so there are four months where caretakers and family members need to keep a close eye on the seniors in their lives.

Treatment Options for SAD

SAD normally goes away on its own after the winter months are gone, but it’s important to seek treatment yearly for the condition. A person can better manage their symptoms every year by addressing the condition with the following treatment methods:

  • Get outside more often. There’s less sun during the winter, and the sun is important for a few reasons. The sun provides much-needed Vitamin D, and the sun will also help a person’s sleep cycle regulation. If a person goes outside, they’ll be able to boost their mood and potentially be able to reset their sleep cycle which has been disrupted due to the lack of sunlight.
  • Activity. A little bit of exercise each day can help. If you need assistance, a caretaker may be able to assist you on your walk outside. If weather conditions do not permit outdoor activity, there’s no harm in doing exercise at-home. You can perform weight training, chair yoga or other forms of exercise to boost mood, maintain weight and increase sleep quality.
  • Increase natural light. Lack of light interrupts the internal body clock, and increasing natural light will be able to eliminate this interruption. Open up the curtains and blinds in the home and let some natural light into the room.
  • Therapy. Light therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment and may be able to help the brain balance its chemicals.

Anyone that is suffering from SAD will want to research and purchase light therapy lamps. These lamps mimic the sun’s light and will be able to help your body readjust during periods of SAD.

These lamps are a form of light therapy, but it’s important to remain in the light for 30 to 45 minutes per day. The goal is to be able to fully reset the body’s clock and help put the brain’s chemicals back in balance to reduce the sadness and depression that is indicative of SAD.

6 Fun Activities for Seniors with Limited Mobility

Fun activities for seniors

Seniors should be out and about, having fun and enjoying their lives. However, this is not always easy as many seniors have a fear of falling. This fear can lead to a life that is housebound and lonely. A lot of seniors are so paranoid that they will not leave their homes.

It’s understandable: falls can lead to brain injuries, broken bones and bruises.

Activities for seniors do not have to be scary. Seniors can have fun, stay safe and also help increase their mobility (depending on the activity) through the fun activities that we’ve outlined below.

What are a few fun activities for seniors with limited mobility?

1. Water Aerobics

Water aerobics are a great way to stay in shape and stay active as a senior. This is one of the activities for seniors that can be done in a group setting to further promote socialization. But there’s no stopping a senior from entering into a local pool and going for a swim.

Water aerobics offer a low-impact exercise that keeps pain and strain away from the person’s joints.

If a senior has arthritis, warm water can also ease the pain while reducing overall swelling in the body. It’s always a good idea to check with a physician before going in the pool. Your local YMCA may offer this fun way to stay active.

When a senior engages in water aerobics, they’ll be engaging in an activity that can help with:

  • Weight management and loss
  • Muscle toning
  • Improved circulation
  • Heart health

The buoyancy of the water can also help a fearful senior eliminate their fear of walking due to a higher level of support.

2. Chair Yoga

Yoga is versatile, and it is one of the activities for seniors that can be used for tailbone pain, muscle tightness, stiffness and an array of other issues. Chair yoga is meant to be for the senior who lacks proper mobility and balance.

But don’t think that you’ll be sitting in one place the entire time.

Chair yoga can help you build up a sweat and start burning calories while improving range of motion, strengthening bones and muscles, and also alleviating pain. Yoga has also been shown to work for stress reduction – something a lot of seniors need.

Gentle chair yoga can be done in 30-minute sessions, and there are ample free YouTube videos available that will guide you through this gentle yoga practice. Classes in your area may also incorporate chair yoga and will be a great place to meet new friends and become part of the community.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a language is fun because it allows seniors to be able to meet a world of new people. When you speak another language, it opens the doors to new friends and cultures like never before.

And there are often language learning classes at local colleges that seniors can take.

You also have the option of using italki.com or hiring a local tutor that can help you learn the language. When anyone learns a language, it’s a great exercise for the brain. Language learning has been shown to improve cognition and keeps the brain young.

The Gerontological Society of America further claims that socialization can help improve a person’s well-being, and to properly learn a language, you must socialize with others to be able to speak it.

Language-learning can also expose seniors to new:

  • Music
  • Friends
  • Movies
  • Television
  • News channels

4. Art or Crafting Classes

Arts and crafts are two of the go-to activities for seniors, and they work so well because they don’t require much mobility. You may be able to find local classes or even meetup groups in your area where seniors get together to make crafts.

While making crafts may not improve your mobility, it’s a great opportunity to get out, socialize or learn something new.

Crafts also allow you to work on and maintain your dexterity – an issue many people have. You’ll be working with your hands, and depending on the craft, you’ll also be using your critical thinking skills in the process. Quilting is a popular craft among seniors.

5. Minor League Baseball Games

It’s also a good idea to just get out of the house and have a little bit of fun. One of the hottest activities for seniors is going to minor league baseball games. These games are very inexpensive, and they allow a senior to get outside and enjoy a day in the stands, cheering on a local team.

Baseball stadiums are handicap accessible, so even if a senior is in a wheelchair, they should have no issues getting seated and watching the game.

You’ll want to look for minor league stadiums in your area and inquire if they have any senior discounts available. A lot of stadiums will offer a discounted rate for seniors.

6. Reading

Sometimes, crowds and going out may not be possible. The weather outside may be poor, or the senior may be feeling unwell. Reading is a great option in this case and allows a senior to keep their mind sharp while doing something that they enjoy.

Reading is a great way for a person to keep their imagination sharp, and it also is very cost-effective.

Local libraries are a great place to find books, and they will also act as a means of socialization if the senior does want to get out of the house. It may also be wise to try and find a book club in the area where members meet to discuss the book they’re reading.